Lecture 04: Hebrews 2:1-4
Lecture: Hebrews 2:1-4
I. Hebrews 2:1-4
We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.
We are still in the bigger picture of chapters 1 and 2 of its Christology. But at this point, the author is doing some exhortation and we want to see how that works. This is one of the most difficult texts in all of Hebrews to translate. It says that which was spoken through the Lord and was confirmed to us by those who heard. Some translate it as: after being proclaimed by the Lord while Lain translate it as first announced by God. It is primarily difficult because of the word order. This was first proclaimed by the Lord and the second point: it was confirmed to us by those who heard the Lord speak. God also bearing witness with them by signs and wonders through various abilities and ways that the spirit was working out things according to his will. Let us first look at the purpose and process. This is a warning that is tucked in between the first and second units of the Christology. The purpose of this is going to relate or pick up on the superiority of Christ and exhort the hearers to act on this superiority. The hearers are exhorted to respond to God’s Work.
The process includes an argument of lessor to greater. So if something is true in a less important situation, it is certainly true in a more important situation and has greater implications. If something is important in relationship to a lesser evil, then it is more important in regards to a greater evil. So the logic here includes that first Jesus is superior to the angels; second, those who rejected the Law given through the angels were severely punished under the old covenant. Third, those who reject the salvation given through the Son deserve even greater punishment.
We are to pay closer attention to what we have heard less we drift away from it. The concept of drifting involves a spiritual state that he is warning them about. The word of drift is like unto something slipping off a person’s figure or food going down the wrong way. It can be used for a person heading in a wrong direction as well. The best way to understand this can be in terms of a nautical image relating to a ship. Plus the word, pay attention was used as a technical term for a ship coming into port. In those days a ship was under sail and to get it moving toward the port, they had to lower the sails at the right time so that it came into the port at the right place. So, the image here is like a ship coming into port and then if there was a miss-judgment. Instead of staying on course, it starts to drift away. So, we must pay closer attention to what we have heard and stay with that to make sure that we focus and understand the Gospel so that we don’t start drifting away spiritually from it. Our endurance in the Christian life will be directly related to the clarity in which we see Jesus and what he has done for us. If we start to get foggy pictures as to who Jesus is and what salvation is all about, that will affect our ability to stay on track of the Gospel.
Then he gives us the argument of lessor to greater. In the case of the word from the angels which was firm; it was something that was unalterable. Every time a person transgressed or is disobedient, there was an appropriate response to that. So, the author is saying that if you think back to the Scriptures, that Law that was mediated through the angels which was a Hellenistic Jewish type of idea. It was something binding and specific consequences for sin in those situations. For example, you have punishment handed out for murder, adultery, incest, bestiality in a wide variety of passages in the Old Testament. This is what the author is pointing to here. If that is the case, then how much greater punishment do we deserve if we turn away from salvation that was given through the Son? If we think about what Jesus did in proclaiming the Gospel, the deliverance that he has brought by his sacrifice for sin, then if we reject this and walk away from the church there should expect a harsh answer. Most likely, these are people that were associated with the community but now have walked away. We need to pay attention to what we have heard because if we reject this word of salvation, then we are even in worst trouble than those who were under judgment in the Old Testament. He speaks of salvation as first being proclaimed by the Lord, then being confirmed by those who originally heard the Lord and then God bearing witness to them by signs and wonders of the Holy Spirit. What does it say about the nature of the working of God in this world and what faith is? It was proclaimed by the Lord; confirmed to us by those who have heard and then God boar witness with them. Some of this language is legal terminology; it is like God stepped into the courtroom of history to confirm what they are saying by these signs.
So, what does this say about the nature of God working in the world and the nature of faith? Faith is built on things that God has really accomplished in the world. In our culture, we have a wrong view of what faith is. For faith in our culture in the idea that miracles don’t happen Faith becomes a leap against all the evidence into the dark. It is taking a leap off into nothing; this is what faith is to our culture. This is not a New Testament concept of faith. New Testament faith is a step into the light. It is stepping out with confidence on what God has revealed as true in the context of human history. It is related to trust, but it isn’t a leap in the dark. It is a reasonable step based on what God has shown to be true of himself in human history. He says that it is substantive; something that has been confirmed. It is related to the fact that God is not seen, but God has revealed things about himself. So, it is still a matter of trust; it isn’t as if I see everything perfectly clear, but I am acting on what has been revealed. N.T. Wright, a Christian historian, says that he has no way to explain the reality of the existence of the early church apart from the resurrection of Jesus Christ. So, Christ spoke in the context of history; it was confirmed to us by those who heard him and God bore witness to them. Our faith is grounded in what God has done in history in regards to real places and real times. A distinction isn’t made between the natural processes of this world and something else. God has acted in space and time. God did these things in a real world and time among witnesses; this is what we have in the New Testament. So, our faith is grounded in history. It isn’t something that is proven scientifically because the evidence isn’t scientific. It works with the Spirit in our lives and in the community of faith. How can we walk away from this word of salvation when God has provided all of this evidence? It was proclaimed by his son in person; it was confirmed to us by his witnesses and even God bore witness with them.
Another possible application to this passage concerns with dealing with punishment and judgment within our culture. We can shy away from this, given our cultural context. People don’t like to hear about punishment and judgment, yet this is something that is part of God’s word. Revelation shows that God does punish sin and so there are consequences. Sometimes people face those consequences in the natural application of their lives, sometimes through the radical judgment of God either now or in eternity. Our God is a God of love but we need to understand this in terms of Biblical Revelation. There are consequences for sin. Sin is devastating and horrible; it takes away and separates us from the immediacy of God.
If you go back to the Sinai account, you have the lightning and thunder, etc. but there is this tradition that says that God was on the mountain and he had angels in his presence. Somehow the angels were involved in the process of giving the Law to Moses. It is an interpretation of the broader dynamics. In
regards to sensationalism I believe it is in response to the charismatic movement. Exegetically, I don’t think there is a basis for arguing that miracles have ceased. God works different at various points in history. You see God working in terms of signs and wonders, especially around the ministry of the
apostles. You have places where gifts are spoken of and I know that isn’t exactly equated with sensationalism. I see them being general statements for the body of Christ. I don’t see conclusive evidence in the New Testament that there is any indication that the Holy Spirit stopped it miraculous work in the 1st century. Here, you have the confirmation by God with a wide variety of the types of manifestation of the Spirit. You have that echoed in acts also with these same terms being used in regards to the confirmation of the Gospel. I don’t see a basis for suggesting that this has ceased. There have also been movements in history of the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit in advancing the Gospel.